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Vertical Future to develop crop-growing systems with UK Space Agency funding
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Vertical Future to develop crop-growing systems with UK Space Agency funding
by Sophie Jenkins
London, UK (SPX) Apr 16, 2024

Vertical Future, a specialist in vertical farming technology and production based in the UK, has been awarded a new grant of GBP 1.5 million to undertake the second phase of the "Autonomous Agriculture for Space Exploration" project. The program is set to adapt Vertical Future's controlled-environment-agriculture systems for use in prototype Low Earth Orbit growing systems aboard the first commercial space station planned by Axiom Space, scheduled for launch in 2026.

The company's offerings are not limited to agricultural uses; they extend to pharmaceuticals, nutraceuticals, integration with greenhouses, and research and development for space applications. With a focus on adaptability and reliability, Vertical Future's systems are designed to deliver robust and resilient controlled-environment agriculture capabilities.

The UK Space Agency selected Vertical Future for this project due to its expertise in technology and leadership in plant sciences, aligning with the UK's goals for human habitation in Low Earth Orbit and beyond. This project is part of the UK Space Agency's GBP 20 million International Bilateral Fund program, aimed at driving innovation and sustainability in commercial space exploration and adhering to the Artemis Accords. The technologies developed through this initiative are expected to play a crucial role in future Mars missions and are anticipated to be implemented on the Lunar Gateway, Lunar surface, and eventually Mars during the 2030s.

The systems developed by Vertical Future are versatile, suitable for various terrestrial environments. In this project, the company aims to establish the first fully remotely monitored farm system that enables productivity tracking of systems both on Earth and in space.

The application of space technology has historically benefited life on Earth, with over 30,000 commercial products, including scratch-resistant lenses and cordless tools, originating from space research. Innovations from this project are expected to enhance productivity and operational efficiency in controlled environment agriculture, with immediate deployment possibilities on Earth amidst challenges like climatic shocks and geographical constraints affecting food production.

The project is supported through international collaboration with NASA, the Australian Space Agency, and entities like Axiom Space and Saber Astronautics, alongside academic partners from the ARC Centre of Excellence in Plants for Space and iLAuNCH, with additional backing from the South Australian Space Industry Centre.

Dr. Jen Bromley, Chief Scientific Officer at Vertical Future, emphasized the importance of space-produced food, biomaterials, and medicines, noting that the technologies for off-Earth cultivation are crucial but not yet fully implemented at the necessary scale. Jana Stoudemire, Director at Axiom Space, highlighted the psychological and physiological benefits of Controlled Environment Agriculture systems in space, which also serve as platforms for biomanufacturing.

Professor Anu Ojha of the UK Space Agency remarked on the fund's role in fostering international cooperation and showcasing the UK's capabilities in space innovation, which supports new space technologies and stimulates economic growth. Prof. Matthew Gilliham of the Waite Research Institute echoed the sentiment, highlighting the project's potential to deliver sustainable solutions for both Space and Earth.

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